Jayson Tatum Chases USA Basketball Jersey
June 2, 2013 • Colorado Springs, Colo.
Sometime after the USA Basketball men’s team took gold at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and before it repeated with gold at the 2012 London Olympics, Jayson Tatum (Chaminade College Prep/St. Louis, Mo.) took notice of the stars that donned a USA Basketball jersey and thought maybe one day it could be him.
“I’d have to say sixth grade,” said Tatum when asked when he first dreamed of wearing U-S-A across his chest. “I never really thought I’d be that good to actually play on a USA team, I just thought it’d be a cool thing to do. I never really thought I’d reach that potential.”
This week at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., Tatum is in fact very close to his dream of playing for his country.
As one of 30 players that started training camp with the USA Basketball Men’s Developmental National Team this past Thursday (May 30), Tatum earned a spot as one of 16 finalists for the team on Sunday morning. Just 12 players will be chosen to represent the USA at the 2013 FIBA Americas U16 Championship June 11-15 in Maldonado, Uruguay.
“Everybody was really tense and nervous last night, couldn’t get much sleep,” Tatum said. “I was thinking it was a possibility that I could and couldn’t get picked. I was just shocked, surprised and extremely happy.
“Four more guys have to go, so I’m just working as hard as possible to make sure that I’m not one of those four that don’t get to go. This is an opportunity of a lifetime, so you have to give it your all.”
It is a fairly long list of skills Tatum says he wants to make sure he puts on display as the committee decides the final roster.
“That I’m very versatile, being able to play multiple positions, whatever they ask me to do, rebound, bring up the ball, score, look for the open man and defend,” said Tatum.
Working in his favor is that Tatum’s first season of high school basketball could be described as an exercise in versatility. After starting the season as a power forward, Tatum was asked to play point guard.
“Coach made some changes because we were like 3-6 in the beginning of the year,” Tatum said of his freshman campaign. “He moved me to the point, and he told me he wanted me to lead the team, and that’s what I did.
“I looked at it like, ‘I can do this.’ I’ve been working on ball-handling drills all my life, so I felt like I could handle myself well out there bringing up the ball.”
The result was an 18-9 season for Chaminade that saw Tatum and his teammates capture a Metro Catholic Conference title and a District 2 title before falling in the state tournament Class 5A sectionals (equivalent to an elite eight).
“This past year taught me that you have to be very vocal, you have to lead and direct people what to do because the team doesn’t go without the point guard,” Tatum said. “I would have to say it took about three or four games before I was comfortable at the point guard.
“There is a lot of pressure that comes with (playing varsity in high school). People always look at what you are doing. You have to keep working hard, never get complacent or settle for what you’re doing right now. You have to strive for better.”
So far, Tatum is playing well in Colorado Springs, but there is no celebration just yet.
“The first couple of days, I was a little nervous, but in the last the couple of practices, I feel I’ve been producing and showing the coaches what I’m capable of doing,” he said. “If I’m one of the 12, then I will be able to relax a little bit.”
Tatum also is one of the handful of players who had family in Colorado Springs during training camp, including his mother and grandmother.
“It means a lot,” Tatum said of having their support. “They are two of the most important women in my life. I look up to them. They both were single parents, and they have just taken care of me all my life and I love them to death.
“I feel like it makes it easier. Sometimes if I’m struggling and I look over to them, they tell me good job and just keep playing hard. That always makes me feel better.”
For his mother, Brandy Cole, it was an easy decision to make the trip out. Not so easy is watching from the sideline as 30 of the top players battle for 12 roster spots.
“It’s just an awesome opportunity for him, and I did want to be here to support him and just be a part of the experience with him,” Cole said. “It’s hard because they want it so bad, and we’ve seen them at their best and at their worst, so we always want them to play and perform at this high level consistently all the time. We have to try not to be critical and, at this point, make sure we are supportive and being that voice that they need to hear to motivate them.”
Though it is Tatum’s father, Justin Tatum, with the basketball experience – he played at St. Louis University and professionally in the Netherlands – Tatum said he gets basketball advice from both of his parents, which is not surprising or noteworthy. The noteworthy part is that he listens.
“During high school games, she always sits in the front row, and she is the only voice I hear out there besides my coach,” Tatum said of his mother.
She might not have played basketball herself, but Cole didn’t have to. At this point, she has been watching her son play the sport for nearly 13 years.
“I’ve been watching Jayson, he’s been playing since he was about 3 ½ years old, so I try to be a student of the game as well,” said Cole. “He will often say I’m his biggest fan and his biggest critic because he comes home with me. I’ve had to learn over the years not to be critical right after the game. When we get home, we sit down and talk, kind of debrief, talk about what went well and what didn’t. As the years have progressed, I think he values my opinion more and more.”
Of his father, Tatum said he helps paint a picture of what to expect as Tatum grows up as a basketball player.
“He tells me what to look for in recruiting, how practices will be, how workouts and my schedule will be in college,” Tatum explained. “You have to be very prepared and in shape to play Division I college basketball.
“We play sometimes. It’s back and forth now. Back in the day, I couldn’t beat him, but now since I’m taller, it’s a better game.”
With one hurdle behind him and the team selection still ahead of him, Tatum’s entire family is awaiting the roster announcement.
“It would be like a dream come true,” he said of making the team. “Everyone dreams of putting a U-S-A jersey on, and you just look at all they guys before you, all of the great players, and you get to be put in that category of players that put on U-S-A. That means a lot.”